La Casa de las Mariposas Butterfly Garden on Road from Tulúm to Cobá

by Mari Pintkowski

It was one of those unusual days when my husband Lou and I had finished our chores at our B&B, La Selva Mariposa, and decided to head west to explore a new attraction at km 30.5 along the Cobá Road, west of Tulúm. The colorful sign for La Casa de las Mariposas had recently caught our attention and we responded to the Abierto (Open) invitation, as we are always on the lookout for new experiences to share with our guests.

We pulled into the parking lot, walked past the brightly painted bathrooms, and were greeted by Julie, who is originally from Arizona and the docent at the garden. She told us that the entrance fee was 60 pesos per person, which included a guided tour and explanation of the medicinal value of the plants that surrounded us. When Julie politely asked if we wanted the tour in Spanish or English, we opted for English as we didn't want to miss a word.

Since Lou and I live just 10 km down the road, many of the plants were familiar to us by sight and some by name. It did not come as a surprise that we called certain plants by different names than the more traditional Spanish titles Julie used. A few trees and plants were known only by their Mayan names, even by the owner and her elderly gardener from Tizimin, a village about one and a half hour's drive to the north.

Noemi, the owner, originally from Spain, began to transform her vision into a reality in February of 2009, with the help of ­­Andreo, her gardener. There was much work to be done: clearing the land; building paths, waterfalls and ponds; planting trees, flowers and shrubs; and, of course, building the screened structure that is now home to the mariposas, the beautiful butterflies.

Julie pointed out several plants that also grow on our property, like the common purple and green "oyster plant" or barquilla that is used to treat nail fungus. We paused beside a chitkuk orchid with long, slender leaves, and she told us the trunk of the male of the species is used to treat skin cancer. Lou looked across the garden and pointed out the female that grows in several locations at La Selva Mariposa. (Photo:oyster plant)

The rue plant with its delicate leaves and no flowers at the moment is a very important plant in the garden at this time of the year. Butterflies are laying their eggs, about the size of a pin head, on the topside of the leaves. The strong smell that emanates from this plant is Mother Nature's way of protecting the species survival by repelling other animals. Rue leaves, crushed up and mixed with alcohol, can be applied to the head to relieve migraine headaches. As we walked, Julie pointed out a beautifully flowering plant, Belladonna, that is used to treat skin irritations, and as a sedative. The tall, slender leaves of the lemon grass plant can be cut fresh and placed in boiling water to make a tea to relieve a cough. Even the brilliantly colored bougainvillea flower has a medicinal purpose that was unknown to both of us, although we have flamboyant bougainvilleas growing by our doorway. The flower is placed in boiling water to create a tea to help tame a dry cough. Lou took a keen interest in this information. The roots of the bamboo plant have a curative role in nature when boiled and made into a tea. This steeping hot beverage helps to eliminate stones in the urinary tract. Some of the flowering plants, like the shrimp plant, lantana and the beautiful delicate impatiens seem to attract the mariposa, but have no known curative value, a least as far as we could discover during our tour.
Photo:rue plant

We entered the screened-in house that has a double entryway, so that butterflies that escape on their own, or as passengers on our clothing, can be rescued in this secure area and placed back in the screened garden. We were immediately captivated by the 18-foot, vine-wrapped post topped with a bit of palapa in the center of the room that supports the screen roof and walls.
Photo:screened garden and post with palapa

Julie mentioned that she and Noemi are working on revising and translating their current Spanish guide book with facts and photos of the plants and butterflies. The booklet will allow visitors to explore the gardens without a guide.

The fluttering of the queen butterflies drew our eyes downward and I pulled out my camera to take a picture of this beautiful member of the Monarch family. Another plentiful species on view that day was the blanquita, busy mating on the tall bird of paradise plants. After the tiny eggs hatch and the metamorphosis begins, the caterpillars are removed by hand and gently placed in a small screened-in garden on their host plants.
Photo:caterpillars in small enclosure

There they eat, grow, and wait until they form a cocoon.
Photo:cocoons in cabinet

The cocoons are then removed, labeled, and placed in a special cabinet until they emerge as a butterfly and are ready to fly about in the garden.
Photos:the queen butterfly

and blanquita mating

Julie walked with us back to the entrance and showed us the palapa-covered gift shop that was under construction. She said Noemi has plans to stock the shop with local products and crafts. We sat for a while on the deck beside the waterfall and pond and shared gardening tips. We promised to return soon to share some books from our library at La Selva Mariposa.